School board votes to close North Bennington Graded School
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 12,2013
NORTH BENNINGTON — After more than 140 years, the North Bennington Graded School will close at the end of the current school year and the public school is expected to be replaced by an independent school, the Village School of North Bennington, which will operate at the same site and serve many of the same students.
The North Bennington Prudential Committee, the village’s school board, approved the motion to close the school unanimously. Vice chairman Matthew Patterson said he was making the motion with “solemnity and understanding of the importance of this act.”
Raymond Mullineaux, chairman of the board, read a statement after the vote that said the school board was “reinventing” North Bennington by the transition. Mullineaux said the board was making the change because they found there were ideals that were “difficult to maintain under the public school model.”
“This school is part of a community structure physically and socially. It must be maintained in that community. It must be controlled by that community so (the school) meets its need for its children and the wider community and it must be sustainable,” he said.
Mullineaux said the school board members believed that only by leasing the space to the Village School of North Bennington could the ideals of the North Bennington Graded School be preserved which was a thought he included in a report to the community.
“To save our school, we had to close it, a paradox of amusement and irony for me when I wrote that line but it’s not an unfamiliar concept in the evolution of human beings and institutions. We transform and like the metamorphosis of butterflies, the past is present in a very different looking future,” he said.
Eva Sutton, co-chairwoman of the board of trustees for the Village School, called Thursday an “exciting day.” Sutton was a school board member when they began what they called the Independent School Investigatory Study committee, or ISIS committee, which eventually recommended the independent school.
“There’s a lot of work ahead but very exciting work. … We’re really looking forward to a big opening of the new school and a really tremendous first year,” she said.
The process of transitioning from a public to private school has been controversial. On Thursday, there was a great deal of discussion about the change the school board had made to its budget.
Members of the school board had promised they wouldn’t close the school unless they could operate at the same budget of $2.3 million which voters approved in March. The budget was proposed as the cost for the school district as an operating district, or a district with a public school.
Without taking a vote, school board members accepted a non-operating budget which cut money from building repairs and contingency funds.
Gail Mauricette, the former treasurer of the school district, pointed out that the budget might be too low because the school was expected to have more students next year than had been expected in December. As a non-operating district, the school district is expected to pay the tuition for every student rather than make accommodations for them within a school so Mauricette pointed that extra students would mean a real, extra cost to the district.
She also pointed out that students who were now going to private schools would have their tuition paid by the school district next year, which would also add to the expenses.
Thomas Martin, principal of the school and presumed leader of the independent school, said unexpected costs were common for schools, public or private.